When my husband asked me to marry him, I knew that I wasn’t just marrying him but also his two young kids. In fact, watching him interact with his kids is one of the reasons I fell in love with him in the first place! However, blending a family together is hard work, much harder than I expected and the learning curve that first year was steep. Here are the top 10 things I learned my first year in Step Motherhood.
- Setting and maintaining boundaries is crucial to creating a respectful relationship between households. My husband and I had to establish healthy boundaries between us and his ex-wife. Their relationship necessarily changed when I came in the picture and this was difficult for all of us and caused a ton of conflict. But after several months, we all learned how to manage that conflict and set some healthy boundaries and things got much easier for everyone.
- Just because the kids are here doesn’t mean that I have to spend every single minute of that time with them. Since they are only with us once during the week and every other weekend, I thought we had to cram that time full of togetherness. Turns out that isn’t good for anyone! We definitely prioritize family time when we have them but it doesn’t mean that I can’t meet a friend for a chat or spend a few hours reading a book on a Sunday afternoon or take time just for me if I need a little calm. My husband is phenomenal about encouraging me to do this since he knows it’s the way to my introverted little heart.
- Dad being the sole disciplinarian for the first 6 months to a year allowed me to transition from a peripheral player to parent-like figure smoothly. When my husband and I first started dating, I didn’t officially meet his kids until about two months in. They had seen me at church and we had casually chatted, but he and I wanted to be sure that this was serious before we brought them into the mix. And something that friends and books had advised was to not to force relationships and let the kids lead. Allowing my husband to discipline kept things balanced and allowed us to develop our relationships without immediately introducing me as another parent.
- My control freak personality had to take a back seat to compromise and trust. I spent a lot of those first few months being anxious and worrying and constantly wanting to know every decision that was being made that could potentially impact our lives. I was insecure about my role as the stepmom. I wanted to prove that I could be a good mom to the kids when they were at my house. My husband and I had some arguments over decisions that were made that impacted me without me being included in them. Through trial and error, we’ve reached a point where I trust him to know what he needs to discuss with me and what he can just handle.
- Step-parenting is not the same as parenting. I asked my best girl friends lots of questions about parenting during the early days (and I still do) but I came to realize that their reality and mine differ immensely because of the amount and frequency of time we have the kids with us and the relationship of the adults making decisions. Implementing chore charts and allowances and routines are much harder (and there’s far less internet advice). I found a lot of value in seeking out suggestions from other parents with blended families.
- It’s OK to have different rules at different houses. I had grown up in a house where we had routines and structure, and I loved it. I’m a textbook Type A personality. My husband’s ex is much more flexible and spontaneous. As such, different rules are important to us about behaviors in our houses. At first, I thought it might be really confusing for the kids but turns out kids are really flexible and quickly learn what is expected of them at each house.
- A good counselor is crucial. My husband and I attended pre-marital counseling with a licensed counselor who took us through the Prepare and Enrich curriculum. Since we were both older, we had already discussed many of the “big” issues such as finances, expectations, kids, etc so we spent a lot of time working with her on how to blend our family successfully and create a healthy relationship between us and the kids’s mom. The advice and support we got from her has helped us immensely and we still turn to her whenever we hit rough patches.
- I really hate the words “stepmom” and “step kids.” But I still haven’t figured out the best way (other than using those words) to describe our situation. They are “my” kids but I don’t want to ever convey that I’m trying to replace their biological mom and I want others to know that I respect her role in their lives as their mom.
- Seeking advice from a friend at work with divorced parents really helped me change my attitude and look at situations from the kids’ perspective. My colleague’s parents have a very contentious divorce and even though it’s been over 20 years, conflicts still occur regularly. Hearing her stories and asking her questions about situations really enabled me to get a different perspective. I still bounce ideas off of her sometimes when I need a non-parental view about blended families (or to take my frustration and turn it around to make sure I’m focusing on what is best for the kids).
- The most important thing to do is just to love them. Kids need love. They need acceptance. They need to know I care. I remember telling a relative at my sister’s wedding that when I found out I was going to be a stepmom, I immediately found two or three books to read because my solution to most problems is to gather resources and learn all I can. She looked at me and smiled and said, “Love, just love them as much as you can.”
A few of my favorite resources:
- Skirts at War: Beyond Divorced Mom/Stepmom Conflict by Jennifer Newcomb Marine
- Dating the Divorced Man by Christie Hartman
- Smart Step Families